It’s 1984, and young Carrie Bradshaw isn’t carousing around Manhattan with Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, or falling in and out of love with Mr. Big. Instead, the fashion-forward teen is still in high school, navigating life after the tragic death of her mother while trying to make friends and maybe even find love. Maybe.
This is The Carrie Diaries, the CW’s adaptation of Candace Bushnell’s beloved novel of the same name, which premieres tonight.
But in this version, the raunchy sex scenes and graphic wordplay are exchanged for more doe-eyed recountings of first times (“It was like putting a hot dog in a keyhole,” says one character). Veteran producers and experts in teen angst Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl, The O.C.) offer up a Carrie who is just as stylish as her adult counterpart, but less jaded from a lifetime of one-night stands and cosmopolitans. With Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman supplying a keen eye for retro fashion and a soundtrack showcasing an array of ’80s Top-40 hits to boot—listen for the indie-rock cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”—The Carrie Diaries is a welcome blast from the past, and one that might occasionally also pull at your heartstrings.
AnnaSophia Robb, who steps into the now-iconic role of Carrie Bradshaw, spoke with The Daily Beast about playing a Carrie who has yet to encounter sex or the big city. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
What was the audition process like?
The opportunity first came around before I had applied to all my colleges; it was right before finals. When I got the call to audition I was like, “TV? No way, I’m just doing film, and I want to go to college.” So a few months went by and I read the pilot and I thought, “This is really fantastic! It’s really well written. I love the character—she’s trying to find herself, be a strong woman, and find her voice. She’s going through all these things that I’m going through, and I feel like I can really grow with this character.” Before I auditioned, I had to sign a contract that said if I got the part I would be on the show for six years! That was kind of a mind trip because when you do a film, it’s three months of your life. It’s a big deal, but it’s never like six years. But I felt this peace about it, and I prayed about it and I talked to my parents about it and my friends, and I just found myself really loving the character. I hadn’t loved a character like this in a long time. Plus, I was watching Sex and the City before I went to sleep. It’s so funny and edgy.
You had to defer from Stanford University to be on the show. Since you may be on The Carrie Diaries for many years to come, do you still want to go to college eventually?
Definitely. It’s really a priority for me. I think you can go to school at any age. I might be an old lady, I might be a total cougar, but it’s OK, because I’ll be in class!
The Carrie Diaries is a prequel to Sex and the City. Where did you draw inspiration for a character that has such a legacy?
I talked a lot with Amy Harris, the show’s creator, about her vision for the show, and I drew from the book. We talked a lot about the endpoint of the show, figuring out where Carrie is going, what sort of woman she’s going to turn into. And I also brought myself into the role, spending time with the character and developing relationships with the cast members.
Have you gotten any advice from Sarah Jessica Parker?
No advice, just encouragement.
You seem to have Carrie’s mannerisms down to a T.
Really? I’m glad you noticed. She’s such an iconic character. I loved watching [Sarah Jessica Parker’s] performance, but I would never want to copy it. There are certain things you want to make sure appeal to [viewers] watching two completely different performances. There are so many people who are familiar with the character—you want them to like her as much as they like the older Carrie.
Sex and the City was clearly about sex, and as an HBO show was very explicit. Will The Carrie Diaries focus on sex?
Yes. Sex is definitely a main theme in the show because it’s a main theme in life. It’s what changes relationships, and it’s the age the characters are at. Carrie is having her first encounters with her friends and trying to figure out what [sex] means, what she wants. The show isn’t nearly as explicit as Sex and the City. I don’t think my parents would have let me do it if it was!
You have a pretty steamy pool kiss with Austin Butler in the pilot. What is your chemistry like on set?
Those scenes are not all they’re cracked up to be. They are very orchestrated; it’s like choreography. They’re not really exciting. I wish they were, but unfortunately they’re not.
In Sex and the City, Carrie dated a lot of different men. Will young Carrie have many suitors?
Yes! I’ve had two thus far, and I’m a little worried to see how many they’re going to throw at me. We’ll see though; I’m just as curious as you are!
The Carrie Diaries is set in 1984, and there are a lot of references to that period in the show—huge cellphones, cassette players. What kind of research did you do to play a high schooler in the ’80s?
There wasn’t really a lot of research. I think kids are probably the same through and through, it’s just the technology that changes. But I think it’s all a little bit more romantic then. I love calling people and leaving voice messages and answering the phone—it’s just so much more personal. It’s not a huge challenge, but it’s a little bit funny. Like some of the cars I have to drive. The other day I had to parallel park this ginormous car from the ’80s, and I haven’t driven in a while because I don’t have a car in the city, so I was really nervous.
Was it a stick shift?
Oh, no—but one of my goals in life is to learn how to drive stick. So hopefully that will happen and then I can drive some really hot car on the show.
Let’s talk about the fashion. What’s it like working with costume designer Eric Daman?
Eric’s awesome! He’s so humble and nonchalant and doesn’t make a big deal about anything. But you really see his genius in the fittings when everything becomes so perfect. He’s such a lovely, kind person. He really knows each of the characters, and he brings out their true colors. He helps us as actors because we might have an idea relating to a character, and he’ll bring it to life with the clothing.
Do you have a favorite outfit?
All of them are pretty damn cute. I wear a lot of petticoats—er, not petticoats, but tutus. Lots of tutus under dresses and skirts, lots of layers, colors, necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets—everything all the time, everywhere.
What about those trademark Carrie curls?
For the pilot they curled all my hair, but it takes about two hours. So for the sake of time, and saving my hair from frying off my scalp, we made a wig. So I have a wig and it’s awesome, beautiful, and very realistic. The directors can never tell it’s a wig, so hopefully that means the audience won’t be able to tell.
I saw a photo on Twitter of you and Stefania Owen, who plays Carrie’s sister Dorrit, at a Justin Bieber concert. Are you close with your costars?
Yes! Yes, I am. Stefania is like my little sister. I love her so much; we have so much fun together. She’s the coolest kid, and on the show she’s like a little devil. But Stefania is the chilliest, most easygoing 14-year-old in the world. It’s her birthday coming up, so I guess she’ll be 15 by the time this article comes out. I actually knew her family before the show. When I did Bridge to Terabithia in New Zealand, her older sister worked with me on the film, so our families became close, and then I found out that she got the role of Dorrit, before I was even cast. It’s a small world.
You are involved in several nonprofits. Why is it important to be involved?
I would like to be more involved. I feel like I haven’t been doing my job well on that front. When you’re a kid, you have these big ideas and these big dreams to make a change, or maybe you feel like you can’t make a difference. What you need is that community to help you along. I’m involved with PeaceJam, and they really help with that by giving a structure, the tools, and the curriculum to get your own program going.
This was the first presidential election year you were eligible to vote in. Are politics important to you?
Definitely. Yes, politics are very important to me. Have I been keeping up with them recently? No. Do I feel bad about it? Yes. But I was very excited to vote. I Fed Ex’ed my ballot in because the hurricane screwed up the postal system and I was worried it wouldn’t come in in time. So I ran down to the post office, filled everything out and was like ‘My vote has to count! It has to count this year!’
Before shooting The Carrie Diaries, you had a pretty normal teenage life— taking the SATs, going to prom—what’s changed?
Well, I’m not in school anymore. Which is nice! No, actually I really miss school a lot. I miss formal education, and I like making time for it. I miss my friends, I feel like I found my best friends in high school. High school was so much fun, and it wasn’t a wreck at all. Everyone got along, we all did fun things, it was so easygoing and I feel like that’s the way high school should be.
How was prom, by the way?
Prom was awesome. I had such a great time at prom. One of my good friends and I went together and we danced. I didn’t sleep at all. Everyone else in my group fell asleep.
At the dance?
At, like, six in the morning. But I stayed up, and I cleaned the house. I was really energetic.